All Ball Sports: Rams’ Stafford stumbles, Chargers’ Herbert throws for three TDs

Mira Costa quarterback Nico De La Cruz led his team to a 36-10 victory over Hart on Friday evening, improving its record to 2-1. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor   

In a single night the Rams went from champs to chumps.           

Yes, it’s only one game – the first game, at that — in a long, and winding 17-game regular season.

Yes, the Buffalo Bills are the trendy, pre-season pick to win the Super Bowl this season.

And yes, the Rams were tied 10-10 with the Bills at halftime of Thursday’s opening night beatdown, before the Bills stomped them in the second half.

The 31-10 loss suffered by the defending Super Bowl champions set off more alarm bells than a coyote in a Manhattan Beach backyard.

There were so many ominous signs for the Rams’ season that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

Let’s start with the most glaring red flag: Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford did not look like a guy who could lead his team to an opening night victory, much less lead them to another Super Bowl championship.

Stafford was sacked an astounding seven times, threw three interceptions, and rarely resembled the heroic guy who came through on nearly every clutch play during last season’s playoff run to the Super Bowl. In fact, the guy he most resembled was the guy he replaced, a player who is rarely mentioned these days around the Rams for good reason: former starting quarterback Jared Goff, the one-time pride of Hermosa Beach, who is now exiled to the Detroit Lions.

Stafford simply did not look like the same gunslinger he was last season: at 34 he’s a year older, he’s less mobile than ever, and he took a tremendous beating over the course of 21 brutal games last season. Even worse, he had such lingering elbow problems after the Super Bowl that the team shut him down all summer and even into the pre-season training sessions.

He didn’t throw a single pass in all the Rams pre-season games.Like most of the other starters, he sat out the games to avoid a needless serious injury before the real season even started.

But all that arm rest didn’t do him much good. Gone was the pin-point accuracy Rams fans got used to last season. Gone was the cannon-arm that could find receivers deep downfield when they absolutely had to have a big play. And gone was the offensive line that protected him so well last season, and gave him so much time to find his receivers.

The anchor of that offensive line, right tackle Andrew Whitworth, was at the game to get his Super Bowl ring as part of the pre-game ceremonies. But he retired this off-season after 16 seasons in the NFL because he wanted to go out on a high note — and there is no higher note for a retiring football player than being an integral part of a Super Bowl winning team.

His replacement, Joe Noteboom, who had performed so well over the last four seasons as an all-around back-up for whichever offensive lineman was hurt or tired that day, struggled mightily to keep Buffalo’s stampeding pass rush away from Stafford.

Even worse from a Rams fans perspective, that devastating pass rush was led by none other than edge rusher Von Miller, who also was an important part of last year’s Super Bowl winning Rams team.     

Indeed, he was so vital to the winning effort that the Rams’ undisputed defensive star, future Hall of Fame lineman Aaron Donald, initially said he wouldn’t come back for another season unless the Rams re-signed his close friend and running mate Miller. The rich Rams refused to pony up what the open market said Miller was worth — $120 million over six years – so little old Buffalo came up with the money instead and Miller signed with the Bills during the off-season.

And in the end Donald came back anyway, lured by a huge raise that made him the highest-paid non-quarterback in the entire NFL.

So much for friendship and loyalty.

Last spring, when Miller left and fans started complaining that the team was too cheap to retain him, the Rams answered by signing linebacker Bobby Wagner, a six-time Pro Bowl player with Seattle. But in this game, at least, Wagner looked over the hill, worn out and unable to compete at the high level it will take for the Rams to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champs since New England did it in 2003, and 2004.

Wagner’s most visible role came when he found himself as the last obstacle between Bills quarterback Josh Allen, and the goal line early in the fourth quarter. Wagner threw himself at Allen, wrapped his huge arms around his torso, and had the wind knocked out of him as the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Allen rolled right over him on the way to a touchdown that gave the Bills a decisive 24-10 lead that was never challenged.

There were other red flags all over the place. The second most ominous one was that the Rams offense was basically reduced to trying to force the ball to Cooper Kupp on virtually every down. It’s true that Kupp pulled off a rare triple crown for wide receivers last year – he led the NFL in receptions, yardage and touchdown catches – but no one player, especially one who is not a quarterback, can lead a team to a championship in the modern game.

The Rams running game was equally impotent, with a grand total of 52 yards. Darrell Henderson looked tired and over-worked and Cam Akers looked injured with three carries for zero yards.

The receiving corps was almost as bad as the running game. Trade acquisition Allen Robinson was not the side-kick to Kupp he had been advertised to be all pre-season, catching only one pass. Last year’s second round draft pick, 5-foot-9 wide receiver TuTu Atwell, looks like a complete bust. And the promising Van Jefferson is still out with an injury. So that left Stafford-to-Kupp and precious little else for Coach Sean McVay to dial up when the Rams tried to make their move past the Bills in the third quarter.

After the game Coach McVay acknowledged that the defending champs had played like chumps. “Tonight was a humbling night,” he said.

But he also vowed the Rams will do whatever it takes to get back to last season’s level of play.

“You’ve got to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say I got to be better within the framework of my role,” he said. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do, that’s what I know our coaches are going to do, and that’s what our players are going to do.”

The Rams all-in strategy of trading bushel baskets of future draft picks for players like Miller, Stafford and Jalen Ramsey paid off big-time last season when 75-year-old owner Stan Kroenke got his fervent wish of a Rams Super Bowl win in So-Fi Stadium. For him, it was one more item to check off his bucket list.

But without the steady flow of fresh young talent that all those departed draft picks would have provided, it feels like the Rams and their fans are about to pay a big price for those few weeks of euphoria last February.

Stafford, Donald, McVay and General Manager Les Snead all got huge raises this off-season in recognition of their Super Bowl win. Locking in those financial rewards before the season started may turn out to be the smartest off-season move they made. Certainly no one deserved a raise – or would have had the nerve to ask for one — after the opening night debacle.

The Rams host the Atlanta Falcons Sunday afternoon. The Falcons are 0-1 and on nobody’s list of Super Bowl contenders. This should be a gimme game for the Super Bowl champs to level their record at 1-1 and silence all the carping critics for at least a week.

But if the Rams lose to the Falcons, they will fall to 0-2 and alarm bells will start ringing louder than the thunder and lightning that hit the South Bay over the weekend. Then the Rams have to face a murderer’s row of three teams: Arizona with the dynamic Kyler Murray, San Francisco with the dynamic Deebo Samuel, and Dallas with the dynamic Dak Prescott, although Prescott may miss the game with an injured thumb.

In a league where anything is possible, it’s possible that a month from now the Rams could be 1-4 or even 0-5 almost a third of the way into the season.

Then the champs truly would be on their way to becoming chumps.

Chargers Coming Fast

A couple of days after Matthew Stafford and the Rams sent a message to the rest of the league that the defending Super Bowl champs are not ready for prime time, Justin Herbert and the Chargers sent the opposite message: we’re coming fast and you better be ready for us.

Herbert threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers Sunday afternoon in a 24-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders at So-Fi Stadium. He completed 26 of 34 passes for 279 yards, didn’t throw a single interception and wasn’t sacked once.

The few times when he was under pressure, he found a path out of the pocket and threw strikes to wide open receivers for big gains. 

“Poise, composure, play-making, leadership, toughness, all the quarterbacking stuff that you need in a tight game,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said of Herbert. “He had it all.”

Dedicated All Ball readers know that we have been Herbie’s biggest fan since the day he walked onto the field with 30 seconds notice two years ago as a last-second replacement, and almost pulled off a huge upset over the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, and their star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.

Since then he has set all the records for the first two years of a quarterback’s career – passes completed, yardage accumulated and touchdown passes – while quickly moving into the top tier of NFL quarterbacks along with Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen.

The Chargers missed the playoffs last season with a bizarre loss to the Raiders in the last game of the season. But it wasn’t the fault of either Herbert or the offense. No, the Chargers had two problems they had to fix over the summer to become legit Super Bowl contenders.

First they had to improve their pass rush, which they did by acquiring edge rusher Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears. Sunday, he had three sacks and forced a fumble, which opened the door for interceptions by linebacker Drue Tranquill and defensive backs Asante Samuel Jr. and Bryce Callahan.            

Their other must-do was to improve the offensive line so they could better protect Herbert, their biggest asset and most dangerous weapon.

Again, based on just one game, they appear to have addressed that problem also.

So, for now, it’s full speed ahead. Their momentum will be severely tested Thursday night when they take on Mahomes and the Chiefs, who also come into the game with a 1-1 record, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

Sea Hawk quarterback Christian Hunt completed 12 of 14 passes for 224 yards in a 28-0 win over visiting El Segundo last Friday. The Sea Hawks are 3-0. Photo by Ray Vidal

Redondo, Mira Costa football both off to good starts  

Keith Ellison is turning out to be just as good a football coach as he was a player.

The Ellison era is off to a spectacular start as the Redondo Sea Hawks pushed their record to 3-0 Friday night with a 28-0 rout of visiting El Segundo.

Star quarterback Christian Hunt led the way, hitting on 12 of 14 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.

Last year’s team, as Sea Hawk fans remember all too well, was a woeful 2-8. Coach Matt Ballard resigned after the season, opening the door for former Sea Hawks star and five-year NFL player Ellison to take over the job.

Redondo opened the season with a 33-0 demolition of Long Beach Wilson, followed that up with a 17-3 win over Torrance, and now they have their first 3-0 start since way back in the glory days of 2015.  

Mira Costa, meanwhile, improved its record to 2-1 with a 36-10 win over Hart Friday night. The Mustangs would also have a 3-0 record if they hadn’t suffered a nightmarish, last second 52-48 loss to St. Francis in the season’s opening game.

They bounced back nicely with a 33-14 win over Mayfair last week and now can push their record to 3-1 Friday night when they take on West.

Bay League play starts in two weeks when Redondo takes on Peninsula and Costa faces Culver City.

The climax of the regular season for both teams will come October 28, when Mira Costa travels to Redondo for the annual backyard brawl with the Sea Hawks. The way both teams are playing right now, that game could also decide the Bay League championship.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Contact: Follow: @paulteetor

Sea Hawk coach Keith Ellison leads his team in a moment of silence in memory of Kalea Avery, prior to Redondo’s game against Torrance two weeks ago. The daughter of Redondo High surf coach Duncan Avery, and his wife Nohea was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer in 2018, when she was six years old. Kalea passed away Wednesday, August 31. Photo by Ray Vidal


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